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  • Writer's pictureRobert Norton

Yes, under these conditions

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

One of my clients is a senior director struggling with unrealistic expectations for a brand-new-and-not-yet-high-functioning team. She sent me this article that diagnoses the pressure she feels as she balances her team's engagement with her organization’s ambitious goals. The “performance-compassion” dilemma aptly describes the dicey disconnect many middle managers face as executives focus on results while employees are near their saturation point.

My last MindFrame Minute focused on what employees can do to protect their capacity to do quality work. But the burden of managing reasonable expectations weighs the heaviest on middle managers. These leaders also have reservations about saying no, and they must manage both their image and that of their team. And many of them feel “gratitude debt,” a sense of obligation that comes with being promoted, making it even harder to push back.

Middle managers can also use the “Yes, if” approach to negotiate on behalf of their team. It sounds like:

Yes, my fantastic team could do that given the right conditions. I think we could do it well if…

  • We wait until the next quarter to allow more planning time.

  • We hire another team member that could dedicate herself to the task.

  • We agree to discontinue one of our struggling projects to make capacity for the new one.

  • We modify the requirements to make it less complex.

  • We recognize the short-term spike in effort and proportionally reward the team.

It takes courage to speak up when you feel your team is nearing maximum capacity. But leaders who negotiate boundaries for their employees win big in the long run when it comes to engagement and retention. Being clear about what your team can't handle is a sign of strength, not weakness.



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